Monday, July 27, 2015

Race report: Bix 7

The Bix — and my performance at it — far exceeded my low expectations, I am very happy to report.

Here's how I did with each goal.

* Focus on the experience. My friend Emily's advice, on the eve of the race, was to have fun with it, and that turned out to be a cinch.

I will say that pre-race logistics were a little annoying; parking far away and biking to the closed-off area worked out perfectly, but once I got to the staging area, it seemed like I turned into a pinball, bouncing from volunteer to volunteer who gave sometimes conflicting directions on where I should be and how to get there.

From the minute I got to where I needed to be up until the post-race party, though, I was fully able to soak in the sights and sounds.

The music along the route was as good as advertised (special shout-out to the brass band playing "Barbara Ann" along Brady Street, and the bongo drummers around the turnaround point who invited runners to take a swipe at their instruments as they passed).

The spectators were genuinely enthusiastic about watching, and there was indeed a slip-n-slide that people actually used. I would've felt slightly cheated had I not spotted that ... even though I had no intention of hopping on it myself.

My favorite sign, though, wasn't on a spectator; it was on a participant. The back of one youngster's shirt asked: "Can you run faster than a fifth-grader?" I wish I knew — I spotted him when the race was still fairly crowded, so I don't know whether he shot ahead of me or fell way behind.

* Don't walk. Done!

I started out speedier than I anticipated and thought I felt myself slowing down later in the race, but at most I slowed to an easy jog during the water stops.

Speaking of walking, let me rant one more time about people who line up closer to the front than the back and then proceed to walk right away ... in a race of literally THOUSANDS of people.

Seriously, folks. You spent at least 15 minutes waiting for the race to start and stared at the opening hill the entire time. If you didn't think you could run it, you should've moved farther back before the gun even went off.

* Finish under 1:10:00. SMASHED. Pie in the sky? More like a piece of cake, evidently.

My chip time was 1:03:27 (9:04 pace) — meaning I notched a negative split, because my first-half chip pace was 9:15.

That was a shock to me. I thought I'd gone out too hard given the heat and humidity (not to mention the infamous hills).

So that leads me to my most boastful observation of all: The hills weren't that bad, and/or I trained really freakin' smart.

Yes, I could tell I was putting in an effort, but it felt no different than tackling any of the hills I hate around Des Moines ... you know, the same ones I made sure to run twice a week for the past month or so.

The tl;dr version of this post is: I'd do it again and encourage others to join me. And I'll actually be wearing the T-shirt, because despite it being a unisex small, it fits me decently.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Goals for the Bix 7

I don't have any special excuses for not blogging for almost a month (!), so I'll just acknowledge the silence and move on ...

Yes, I'm still doing the Bix 7. Quite a few pieces of this experience will be different from the past three years' worth of races I've done.

Totally new: racing seven miles; sleeping in a tent the night before (I'm joining my RAGBRAI friends in Coralville just so I can see Cheap Trick!); and coordinating a finish-line viewing with other out-of-towners (my parents are coming in from Rockton to watch my race and then hang out).

Unfamiliar: traveling any farther than a half-hour — and outside my metro area — to a race; racing a distance that isn't 5K or a half marathon; picking a race between Memorial Day and Labor Day; and doing a race where my goals are basically no loftier than "finish."

What are my goals? In a second.

First, let me emphasize how glad I am that they're so underwhelming, because pretty much all conditions will be against me Saturday: hills PLUS 90 percent humidity, with the start-time temperature at 75 degrees. It should, at least, be overcast.

With that said, don't laugh too hard at how lame my aspirations are.

Most attainable: Beat my friend Emily's 2012 time of 1:19:03 (11ish-minute miles).

That summer was awful, so I'm not judging her ... but back when it was still late spring and I was fresh off my half marathon PR, I thought this seemed like a piece of cake.

Midrange goal: Focus on the experience and not the difficulties.

Lofty goal: Don't walk.

Pie-in-the-sky goal: Finish under 1:10:00 (faster than 10-minute miles).

I haven't trained hard — running twice a week — and much of the summer has been mild, but I haven't let myself avoid hills, and I have stayed active. So I'm not really sure what to expect ...

... except beer and ice cream. Bent River, here I come!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What I'm doing instead of the Des Moines Marathon

Most readers of this blog had no idea I was even considering the Des Moines Marathon, so the declaration that I've decided against it doesn't have quite the impact.

After my half marathon success, I began to wonder whether I should take on a new challenge, and the obvious next step seemed to be a marathon.

The even more obvious next step seemed to be the Des Moines Marathon: It takes place in late October; I live near one of the more challenging portions of the race; and I now work from home on flexible hours.

What I didn't account for, though, was the freedom of no longer working nights and weekends. I've been taking full advantage of this new development — it's like summer break for grownups, because there's time to play and income to fund the fun.

There were a few other factors pushing me away from the marathon, but that was the primary one.

Here are the races I'm considering instead:

Bix 7 (July 25). I still have to figure out whether I trust myself to not party too hard during the July 24 Cheap Trick concert in Coralville and then wake up at 5 a.m. to get to Davenport by 6:30 a.m. for day-of packet pickup.

Also, I'll be honest: Racing in Des Moines has spoiled me when it comes to race-day travel. With the exception of RAGBRAI 2014, I've barely given transportation and parking a thought since I left Rockton.

But the outlook looks fairly promising. I'm struggling with motivation to run, and encouraged by the general feasibility of doing this race.

Capital Pursuit (Sept. 20). The website claims it's a fast race, so we'll see whether I can beat my last 10-mile race, which definitely incorporated hills. This will force me to train, but not to suffer: I'd probably start training the last week of July (or early August, if I do the Bix 7).

Sycamore 8 (early December). An off-road race in the Midwest in early winter? If that doesn't say "new challenge," I don't know what does.

Half marathon wild cards: I would consider doing the NewBo half marathon (Sept. 6), the Des Moines half (Oct. 18) or the Hillbilly Hike (Nov. 7).

Friends have expressed vague interest in doing the NewBo half and the Des Moines half, so I offered to run with them should they decide to do so. Also, NewBo and Hillbilly both also host a 10K; I could use those as a baseline, if 10K becomes next year's speed target.

And finally (geez, I ramble), I have two formal bike rides actually planned: this weekend's Bacoon Ride, which we could manage to stretch into a century ride, and more importantly, the Tour de Fur on Aug. 30, which benefits Furry Friends Refuge!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Post No. 300 is about not running

(Irrelevant to the post itself: This is my 300th on this blog!)

This is sort of a mishmash of tangentially related topics — being at an athletic event and not participating.

First was my experience volunteering at Run for the Trees, which was a 5K/one-mile race the day before my half marathon. I very much wanted to go, because the venue sounded gorgeous and it benefited the Boone County Historical Society, led by my good friend Pam.

Running didn't seem like a smart idea, so I volunteered instead, though I'm not sure that standing outside for an hour on a cool, damp day was textbook pre-race prep. (Obviously, it all turned out OK.)

My job was to usher runners toward the finish line, which was a pretty low-effort job. That left me with plenty of energy to cheer on runners and shout out things like "first female finisher!" "top-five finish!" "lookin' good, almost there!" at people.

I'm not sure whether I was encouraging, annoying, or useless. It probably depends on whether you're a grumpy runner, like me, who doesn't want to hear uplifting comments when things get tough (and did I mention it was a trail race after a rainy morning?), or a runner unsure of your runner status and in need of a cheerleader.

But at any rate, it was fun in spite of the rain and the early wakeup call required to be in Boone on time. I would consider volunteering at another race; we'll see whether that ever manifests itself in action, though ...

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was watching Cory finish Dam to Dam recently. I arrived in time to cheer him on during the final 200 meters (he didn't hear me, but I know I was there) and hung out with him at the post-race party for a bit.

I was there about 15 minutes before he finished, and you would think that watching tired runners — or, worse, the incredibly gifted ones who sprinted to the end — would have made me think "man, I'm glad I'm not running, I'd look worse than the tired ones and be livid at the energetic ones."

Nope. I was jealous. I stood in the crowd, stereotyping much of it as not-runners, and thought wistfully: I belong with the people on the course. I might not look like it, but I do, I promise!

It is an odd feeling to be back on the outside again, watching sweaty people with huge grins hobble around, bubbling over with post-race analysis. Only a few weeks ago, I was clearly one of them — that day, I was just an admirer.

So that sounded rather bleak and self-deprecating, but it actually wasn't. It also refueled my running flame, in that I reopened my mind to Dam to Dam and that I resolved — sometime soon — to start working on a fall race schedule.

More on that schedule in a few days ... it's taking shape, but needs some actual thought still.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Race report: Woofin' It 5K

Funny that a race I spend so much time talking up to people and eagerly anticipating ends up being a blog post I just never write.

(Turns out starting a brand-new job immediately after the old one finishes, then going out of town every weekend, will put you behind on your personal to-do list.)

Anyways, nearly a month ago now, I did my third straight Woofin' It 5K, which as everyone knows benefits Furry Friends Refuge animal shelter, the place that saved my Dusty cat and has since hired me. Obviously a great cause :)

Other factors that made this Woofin' It especially pleasantly memorable:

The weather was as perfect as weather gets. Cory and I biked out to Campbell Recreation Area in the morning, enjoyed a humidity-free run, then rode to dine outdoors in Waukee, all in total comfort.

We again shared a dog, though we could have each taken one of our own, and she was perfect. She pulled a bit early in the race, but then mellowed out; she didn't bark or lunge at anyone; she had a purple collar on to match my purple T-shirt ...

... and her name was Sadie.

Proudly crossing the finish line!
People came up to me after the race to ask what "my" dog's name was and praise her. I felt pretty proud, even though I'd done absolutely nothing except let her enjoy the outdoors.

(Hey, Des Moines readers, just an FYI that Sadie's still available for adoption. Sadye, on the other hand, is content in her forever home.)

And ... that's about it, I guess. Maybe next time I should blog closer to the actual event, so that I have more stories to share. (Though in my defense, we missed the costume contest because we left late, and during the race I was a bit stressed out by something that had happened at my now-former job.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What's next?

What's next for me? I don't have a quick answer beyond a charity walk on Saturday.

After a strong showing at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K, I found myself agreeing with Cory that maybe next year, the 10K would be a good idea.

Then, after our strong showing at the Drake Relays half marathon, I found myself with the odd feeling that I've — well, "conquered" or "mastered" are too strong of words ... maybe solved or figured out the half marathon.

And while I proved last year that I can bike across the state of Iowa in a week, I decided that for personal and not physical reasons, I would skip RAGBRAI 2015.

Clearly it's time for something different. I have a few ideas rattling around my head, but nothing I'm ready to commit to on the Internet.

New race distances are definitely in play, such as doing the Newbo 10K (to help a friend commit to the Newbo Half Marathon!), or, closer to home, the Capital Pursuit 10-miler.

Heck, even though hills, heat and humidity are my idea of hell, maybe this would be the best year to attempt the Bix 7 in Davenport — people rave about it, but it's always on the last day of RAGBRAI.

I'm giving myself the rest of the month to figure it out; I kept up a reasonable amount of exercise in the two weeks between the half marathon and Saturday's Woofin' It 5K (race report still to come). I chose "the rest of the month" for two reasons:

One, it seems like the right amount of time to keep myself from burning out, mentally and physically, on running.

And two, my personal life is getting pretty chaotic in a good way: travel plans and job transitions. Starting Monday, I'll no longer have a full-time job; I'm switching to two part-time gigs, one of which has a strong potential to become full-time by the end of the year.

So by the time June arrives, I'll be firmly parked in Des Moines for a while, and I'll have a better sense for what my days look like.

Yes, exercise is a stress-reliever, and I plan to keep active for the next few weeks, but to try to plan workouts around leaving one job/starting another/hitting the road multiple weekends seems like an added source of anxiety.

Tentatively, I'd like to get two bike rides of substance, two runs and two yoga sessions in a week. So many of my friends are into weight-lifting that I feel compelled to worry about getting strength training in ... but that's something I'll worry about in June!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy cycle-versary to me

A year plus a few days ago, I took the plunge into bike commuting. Back then, I didn't know whether I'd love it or loathe it, but I was cautiously optimistic.

It took me less than a month to cancel my work parking pass. And though I kept waiting for winter to discourage me into reactivating it, I'm still sitting here, parking-pass-free.

The way Cory feels about commuting by bike seems to sum up my feelings, too: I don't always leave the apartment/work excited about riding, but every time I arrive at my destination, I'm glad I did it.

That even holds true in the winter, shockingly. (Of course, I'd feel differently if I didn't live with a bike guru who got me in good shape, equipment-wise, for snow riding.)

I am definitely not as committed to it as many other riders are. I can fairly easily find an excuse to drive to the grocery store that's only half a mile away from the apartment.

If I cheat on my bike often enough, though, I remember why I prefer it — I hate paying for parking, especially now that I got out of the habit of doing it, and I dread parallel parking.

(So don't think I have some higher moral reasons for biking, or that I'm self-righteous about it. It's laziness in a different form.)

And I also start to feel guilty about driving if I do it too much now. I'm an abstainer, not a moderator, so I tend to expect 100 percent commitment from myself.

Sometimes when I wish I'd burned calories and not fuel/money, I have to remind myself that more often than not, I take advantage of the fact that bike commuting *is* practical for me. (Again, I don't want to sound like a bike evangelical — not everyone is in the right position to do it. No judgment here.)

I guess the takeaway from this particular post is that if I meet up with you and I have helmet hair or give off a faint odor of perspiration, you'd better either deal with it or make excuses not to hang out. The Shrimp isn't getting put away anytime soon.